Wednesday, 13 July 2011
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 2, Defence (Amendment) Bill 2011 [Seanad] - Second Stage; and No. 3, Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill 2011 [Seanad] - Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m and that business shall be interrupted not later than 10 p.m; the proceedings on the Second Stage of No. 2 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m; and Private Members' business, No. 33 – motion re educational supports (resumed), shall take place at 7 p.m or on the conclusion of No. 2, whichever is the later, and shall conclude after 90 minutes.
I oppose the guillotine on this measure. I will not put it to a vote but the record of legislation since this Government came into office shows that, in most cases where the guillotine has been applied, the debate has ended naturally. On many occasions the Dáil has gone dark for hours on end. This legislation is not controversial, will not be opposed and should be allowed to run its course. The Opposition has not delayed many items of legislation; often, Government Deputies want to take part. I ask the Taoiseach not to apply the guillotine and to allow all Deputies to partake in the debate rather than limiting the time. We have already facilitated the passage of legislation this week and next week through late sittings. The Opposition has facilitated the passage of legislation that is not controversial and which we do not oppose. This is one such item of legislation.
Deputies who are now the Whips for the Government parties used to stand here giving out about guillotines. At meetings of the Whips and in this Chamber, we said we will facilitate as much as possible legislation that is not controversial and that is welcome in most cases. This is such an item of legislation.
The use of the guillotine will become a major and urgent issue, particularly from September. There will be endless conflict and time wasted if the Government continues to do what it has done in the past three months, which it said it would not do. Every week there are several guillotines. A different approach can be adopted to legislation, which is to ascertain whether there is a high volume of demand from Members to speak and to make adjustments accordingly. The brutal method of the guillotine as a principle is reprehensible.
I understand the issue of the guillotine. The Government approved a number of changes to the way we do business here at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. These will go before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges tomorrow and should be on the Order Paper for next week. Yesterday evening, during the debate on Second Stage of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, the Minister for Justice and Equality had to speak for 30 minutes to conclude the debate at 10 p.m. because there were insufficient contributions. This happened despite the call from the Opposition benches yesterday to lift the guillotine and extend the time.
It is expected that the legislation will finish before the time allocated this evening. If it finishes earlier, Private Members' business will begin. If it does not, we will allow Private Members' business to run for 90 minutes. From September, the process of doing business in this Chamber will be changed. I hope this will deal with any queries people have about guillotines and having the opportunity to speak their mind.
Among the items of legislation we are supposed to deal with in this session is legislation pertaining to the holding of three referendums, the establishment of a constitutional convention and an amendment to the European treaties to allow for the European stability mechanism. Not one of these measures has been published and all of the promised consultation due to be held has not been held. Can the Taoiseach explain when we will see these measures, given that there is only one week left in the parliamentary schedule? Why has the promised consultation, due to be held with the Opposition and others, not yet been held?
In respect of the three referendums, two of the Bills are being worked on in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the third Bill is being worked on by the Minister for Justice and Equality, with a view to the Bills being published in time for consideration. When they are ready, consultation will take place with the Opposition parties. The European stability mechanism is not due until 2013. The Bill is being worked on but it is not necessary to have it ready just now.
Is the Taoiseach satisfied the referendum commission will have the time it requires for the three referendums? Does this mean the Taoiseach's commitment to prior consultation on the drafting of legislation, which is part of the reform package, will not be met in the context of these elements of the legislative agenda?
There will be plenty time and the commission will have time to carry out its function. In advance of making the changes I refer to, a number of Bills have been referred to committees at the heads of Bill stage to receive a political response. We are in advance of where we said we would be in referring Bills to committees so that Members can give their reactions to the heads of Bills as drafted.
Given the intended publication later today of the report on clerical sexual abuse of children in the Catholic diocese of Cloyne, will the Government allow for the opportunity for statements and an exchange in regard to the findings and the content of that report? Will the Taoiseach accept, as he would know, that on the publication of the report there will be significant media and wider discussion in regard to the content and that it is imperative that this House would have the opportunity to address it at the earliest opportunity? I would commend later today or tomorrow, and I would appreciate the Taoiseach's confirmation that is his intent.
Yes, that is my intent. This is another damning report which will be published today by the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. It speaks for itself in respect of what happened and what was not done. It is my intention that there be an opportunity for comment and statements here in the House. It is a question of finding an appropriate time to do that. I will have the Chief Whip communicate with the Deputy and the House on that matter.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs indicated yesterday that the Children First guidelines will be implemented in the form of legislation quite soon. Given that those guidelines suggest the issue of neglect by omission, particularly in the area of vulnerable disabled children who may miss school and as a result be deprived of intellectual stimulation, that is a form of neglect that must be addressed. When will that legislation be brought forward and will it guarantee, as a matter of right, the special needs and other educational supports required to vindicate the rights of special needs children to a full and proper education as against the current policy of caps and quotas, which in effect mean cuts in special needs educational support?
The fact that a child is born with particular challenges changes the entire life profile of the family, whatever the circumstances in which they find themselves. The Minister was given approval on Tuesday to proceed with the drafting of the legislation dealing with the Children First guidelines. That is so important and personal to those who deal with it. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will do her utmost to have those guidelines enshrined in draft legislation. I cannot give the Deputy a date as to when she will have completed her observations and bring a Bill to Government but in accordance with what I have said already, when the heads of the Bill are approved by the Government they will be circulated to committees to ensure people can have an opportunity to comment on them. This is an issue upon which we can agree.
It was announced with much fanfare that there will not be any cuts in social welfare rates in the programme for Government. Is it intended to introduce in the coming weeks another social welfare Bill to give effect to the cuts in the household benefits package announced yesterday by the Minister for Social Protection including the reduction in the gas and electricity units, and the substantial cut-----
I am not asking for a debate. I am asking if social welfare legislation is being brought in to give effect to an announcement made last night which will affect quite a number of people throughout this country, the elderly in particular, and in terms of the cuts in fuel allowance also.
One of the consequences of the boom and subsequent collapse of our housing market is that more and more people made the choice to live in rental accommodation. An unfortunate difficulty being experienced is that sometimes the quality of the rental accommodation is not what it should be. The Government has made a commitment to introduce the residential tenancies (Amendment) Bill to streamline the way the rental sector is regulated. Will the Taoiseach indicate to the House when and if that Bill might be before us?
The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is dealing with that. It is an issue of concern. It is due to be dealt with this year but I cannot give the Deputy an exact day or week when it will be published but it is down for this year and I hope to be able to adhere to that.
Is it intended to put the witness protection programme on a statutory basis? In the previous Dáil our colleague, the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, introduced Private Members' legislation but as far as I am aware it did not progress. Is the Government prepared to do that?
Our colleague, Deputy Mathews, organised a briefing for Deputies on all sides of the House last evening from Professor Gurdgiev and Professor Karl Whelan-----
They act completely independently. I am aware there was an informal meeting yesterday where eminent people gave their view. The problem is that 1,000 economists give a different answer to the question. In so far as the Government is concerned, to date we have measured up to all of the conditions set out in what is a challenging IMF-EU bailout deal. Reports from the Troika assessing Ireland's current position are that they have rarely been involved in a situation where a country has measured up in the way Ireland has done. The Deputy played his part in that as well. It is not a case of supporting the views expressed yesterday evening at an informal meeting. People are entitled to have those views.
In respect of the witness protection programme, I will have the Minister for Justice and Equality respond to Deputy Broughan. It is not, as far as I can recall, part of the programme for Government but I will ask the Minister to reflect on the Deputy's comment.
I wish to make two brief points. First, given the importance of the publication of the Cloyne report today, does the Taoiseach intend giving a briefing to the Opposition parties prior to the publication? Second, a commitment was given previously that the Construction Contractors Bill would be brought to the House in this term. Given that there is only one week left, will that Bill be brought before the House next week or is this another broken promise?
No, it is not another broken promise. The Construction Contracts Bill is being worked upon by the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Hayes. I referred to this yesterday when I was asked the same question. I expect it will be brought forward early in the autumn.
The Cloyne report is being published at 3 o'clock today and both the Minister for Justice and Law Reform and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will hold a press conference on that. As I said to Deputy Ó Caoláin, we will have the opportunity to hear everybody's comments and statements here in the House whenever we can agree on that.
Across the country small and medium size enterprises are procrastinating in terms of renewing leases because they are expecting legislation on upward only rent reviews. They are also wondering, if they are a year into rent reviews, whether they can retrospectively look at bringing down the lease. Banks, solicitors and various other people involved in such leases are being stagnated in terms of doing anything with it. When can we expect this legislation to come before the House and what does the Taoiseach believe will be its implications?
This is an important issue. There are many cases where businesses have reduced rent in agreement with tenants because of the circumstances in which they find themselves. The Minister for Justice and Equality is actively working on this Bill. I would like to bring about certainty in regard to this matter. The Minister is now aware that it is a priority. I hope we can conclude this comprehensively early in the autumn.
The Taoiseach indicated no school would be left without SNAs. Several schools in my area, including Finglas, are losing SNAs. In St. Brigid's, two out of three SNAs are being lost and the same applies in St. Joseph's. Does the Taoiseach accept this is in contravention of the constitutional rights of citizens?
With regard to promised legislation, the legal services Bill seems to be the most appropriate replacement. Will the Taoiseach indicate that it will not be awaited for ten years, notwithstanding the performance of the previous Government?
What is the position on the national vetting bureau Bill, which is becoming increasingly important? The Taoiseach has already expressed a particular interest in bringing it before the House. What is the position on the children (establishment of child welfare and protection agency) Bill and the children first Bill, both of which are promised and necessary? Not wishing to rain on the parade of some members of the Opposition, who have been preoccupied with broken promises, I contend that many of the provisions I hope will be incorporated in those Bills-----
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is working on the children (establishment of child welfare and protection agency) Bill but I do not have a date for it. On Tuesday, the Cabinet authorised the Minister to proceed with the work on the children first Bill. That will be a priority for her. There is no date for the publication of the national vetting Bill but I can tell Deputy Durkan, to his satisfaction after all these years, that the legal services Bill is a requirement under the EU-IMF bailout deal and is to be published by September. At long last, the Deputy's persistent questioning has allowed this to happen.
When will there be legislation on State bodies considering the Government has for ten weeks been considering the McCarthy report and its impact on semi-State bodies? When it was published initially and brought to Cabinet, the Taoiseach said he would return to the House within four weeks with some recommendations, if necessary, or related subjects to be discussed. In light of that commitment, and based on Deputy Troy's statement that there is only a week to go before the recess, many affected employees of Coillte, Bord na Móna and other companies in my area await an answer.
Deputy Cowen is aware that the programme for Government states the Government will realise €2 billion by the sale of non-strategic State assets over its lifetime. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is carrying out a line-by-line analysis of each Department. I expect he will bring a memorandum to the Government before the summer recess on the options that are available. That does not mean there will be an immediate decision arising from that memorandum. I have outlined what the programme for Government states and that is what we will adhere to at the appropriate time in respect of non-strategic State assets.
With regard to SNAs, as referred to by my colleague, families are worried about the impact of financial constraints. In the backyard of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, a head of an educational institution spent €100,000 on taxi fares, and €28,000 was spent on upgrading a brand-new building.
There is a need for accountability on all these matters. The Comptroller and Auditor General Bill deals with that matter, as does the Committee of Public Accounts, the Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and the committee dealing with the individual sectors. What Deputy Crowe referred to occurred in a constituency neighbouring that of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.